South Korea and the United States will carry out their annual military exercises this Monday, but on a reduced scale due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and support diplomacy that focuses on North Korea’s nuclear program, reported this Sunday a South Korean official source.
These ninth exercises, which begin Monday, could enrage North Korea, which has long viewed them as preparations for an invasion.
“The upcoming annual training is a computer command simulation and its character is strictly defensive,” the South Korean joint chiefs of staff said in a statement.
These maneuvers are carried out after the arrival of Joe Biden to the White House and when the dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang has stalled since the failure of the Hanoi summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former President Donald Trump, in February 2019.
There are 30,000 American soldiers in South Korea. Tens of thousands of South Korean soldiers participate in these annual exercises.
Experts estimate that Pyongyang will take advantage of the maneuvers to increase provocations against Washington in order to put the Biden administration to the test.
US -South Korea drills have been a major source of animosities on the peninsula, with North Korea viewing them as invasion rehearsals and responding with its own weapons tests. In January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged the US to withdraw its hostile policy and South Korea to end drills with the US , warning the fate of their relations with North Korea depends on how they behave.
Some experts have said Kim may resume high-profile missile tests and raise tensions if he feels provoked by the upcoming drills, one of the two major military exercises between Seoul and Washington along with their summertime training.
The nuclear negotiations have been stalled for about two years since a February 2019 summit between Kim and then President Donald Trump collapsed due to wrangling over US -led sanctions on North Korea. The government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which facilitated the early part of the US -North Korea talks, has been calling for the diplomacy’s restart and greater inter-Korean ties.
A South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said that Seoul and Washington decided to “minimize” the number of troops participating in this month’s drills because of the pandemic.
The officer, who requested anonymity citing a department rule, said the allies have been staging field exercises throughout the year to maintain their readiness, rather than holding them intensively in certain periods, in an apparent reference to the spring and summer drills.